Steelers' Hines Ward wasn't a 'dirty player'

Unlike Hines Ward at his retirement press conference, there are players around the league who won't be shedding a tear that he is leaving the game.

That includes Bengals safety Chris Crocker, who told the team's official website that Ward "was a dirty player."

You can give Ward a lot of labels but "dirty" should not be among them. He was aggressive, violent, and, yes, often annoying to linebackers and defensive backs alike.

It's true that Ward was named the NFL's dirtiest player in a 2009 Sports Illustrated poll. So, it's not just Steeler-hating fans who are calling Ward out. It's his peers.

Still, this doesn't mean that Ward is dirty. When you play Ward's style, you're not going to gain many friends around the league. Players don't like it when they're running along minding their own business and find themselves face first in the ground a second later. And they really don't like it when it's a 6-foot wide receiver who put them there.

But Ward never stomped on someone's face during a game. He didn't even stand over them to taunt after a hit. In fact, there was one hit where Ward leveled Ravens safety Ed Reed and waved to signal for a trainer immediately afterward. That's not dirty.

Others have a different opinion like Crocker, who said Ward "tried to end people's careers and that's not the way the game is supposed to be played."

Crocker said Ward punched him in the face at the snap of the ball in 2009, a year after Ward's blindside block broke the jaw of Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers and ended his rookie season.

"He was a dirty player, but he made a lot of plays," Crocker said. "They used him perfectly to suit his abilities and he was a big-time player for them. Some people might think of him as a borderline Hall of Famer, but I think the fact he helped them win two Super Bowls and all the things he did for that team make him deserving."

This really is the greatness of Ward. How many players are criticized and respected in the same breath? He was one of the all-time best villains for opposing teams. He was the type of player that you wanted to have as a teammate but hated (and feared) to line up against.

“I love Hines as a player and I told him that,” Reed said last summer. “But I told him also for a long time, ‘You’re a dirty player because I know how you play.’”

Players won't miss keeping their heads on a swivel when Ward was on the field, but they will always remember the passion and intensity that he brought to every play.